Music appreciation / music as a tangible object rant

Discussion in 'Music and Recordings' started by JoshMorr, Apr 21, 2016.

  1. JoshMorr

    JoshMorr Friend

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    (I thought this deserved its own post in the music section -Marv)

    Music Appreciation / Music as a Tangible Object Rant

    In today’s world of digital music, either streaming or stored on a hard drive, it is easy to take music for granted. Many of us value the size of digital collections (of albums we’ve listened to once or twice - if at all), but not the actual value of its content. Having terabytes of information being only a mouse click away is commonplace, but ultimately a dangerous thing. My Jriver music player says that I have 495 hours of lossless music stored, enough to play a new song for three weeks straight. While I briefly enjoyed growing this collection as quickly as possible, I probably enjoyed music more as a kid with a modest collection of 50 or so CDs. I believe we (as a society) have misplaced our value of music as a physical object in today’s digital age.

    Becoming old enough to really desire my own music I had to save up enough money to acquire cassette tapes and then CDs. I remember the joy of holding my new purchase in my hand and being excited to hear my favorite tunes from the radio at my disposal. Records, cassettes, and cd’s all were an important part of my youth. Studying every square inch of the liner notes, knowing all the members of the bands names, lyrics, and even mundane “thank you”s were part of the process that brought you closer to the artist and what they were trying to convey through their album. Looking at the album artwork as I listened helped stimulate all the senses. I do not miss the cassette tapes and CDs, I’ve probably downloaded anything of any significance, but something is lost. Downloading at a couple clicks is a very impersonal way to acquire something of such significance. It does not feel the same.

    Part of what makes digital music less involving to me is the ability to multitask to the point of distraction. Listening at a computer while reading forums, catching up with emails, working, etc mentally removes the listener from a full experience. I often find myself completely unaware of what is coming through my headphones. Listening on a phone or a DAP can be a very enjoyable experience, but the distractions are many. While it is incredibly convenient to have our music library with us everywhere we go, it diminishes the significance of its importance.

    There is a remedy to the situation above, I have found a cure. Digital enthusiasts will roll their eyes, but the tried and true vinyl record has brought this joy back into my life. I forgot the joy of walking out of the music store holding something going home, unpackaging, and putting it on to play and it exceeding expectations. I forgot what it was like to see the album artwork, read about the artist, the recording, their thought process, etc. To get a glimpse into the musician’s vision, how they worked and shaped information into a 12” x 12” cardboard sleeve. This is seen as a draw back for many, but having to get up and flip a record every 30 min or so helps keep the listener involved and focused on the experience. The bonus for me is that vinyl sounds better - It draws me in, is more intimate, more dynamic range, insert all the record vs. digital clichés. Vinyl has put jumper cables onto my brain and awakened my ability to hear music.

    Vinyl isn’t the only remedy. Setting aside time to listen without distractions is key. Don’t be satisfied with the 1” square of album artwork on the media player. Take time to investigate what when into a recording. Get more involved, the music will sound better and the whole experience will be heightened.

    The purpose of this essay isn’t to say digital music sucks, sell your DACs and spdif converters / analog or bust (I will leave that for Purrin and Shiazada ;)). Digital music has an important place in my life and I use it every day. I stream Tidal throughout my house on a couple of sonos boxes (pitchforks), and really get to enjoy a lot of music through a Gungnir Multibit. But remembering to appreciate the value of what I have at my fingertips, either in the physical analog world or the vast digital universe, has brought me more joy in my listening experiences than ever.
     
  2. Effusion

    Effusion Friend

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    Thanks for the rant, I really enjoyed it! It made me contemplate many things that had already been coming up as of late, so I'd thought I'd share as well.

    In a way what you wrote made me reminisce of days long gone, when part of the listening experience was physically picking out a CD/record to open up and play. However, the convenience and ease that digital music provides is so very nice! I really don't think I could even give up digital music entirely for long period of time; in a way, conscious or not, the convenience has become crack for my ears!

    You are right in many ways and on many levels... single servings, out of massive amounts of options, has started to become the norm nowadays; no less, mainly thanks to the mp3, but really just because of it's convenience and cleaner sound. Even though many say that mp3s killed CDs, which I do agree with (flac files for me though), in my opinion mp3s in a way have also given a rebirth to vinyl.

    I recently read an article stating that vinyl sales went up again this year compared to last, by 40%! The "new" market has really taken off in the last several years and a lot of artists are now making more off their vinyl sales than their CDs (digital is still the most though). I recently told this to my friend, who like many, first thought it was just older music being purchased that went up, but according to the article it was new releases and that even Adele's new album was at the top of the vinyl sales chart this year.

    The nice thing is that many are producing the heavier 180 gram pressings now; plus more has even gone into both the packaging and the artwork, at least in relation to the so called "last days of vinyl" of the 90's and early 2000's. Some releases have "vinyl only" tracks and also offer the full digital download with the vinyl record, which I believe is pure genius. With sales for most artists surpassing their CDs counterparts as of late, I'm sure that limited editions/pressings with all the bells and whistles will continue to be made available to those really looking for the "total" experience. Which is really cool in my opinion!

    However, I'm actually not a very big digital music only buyer and I still purchase 99% of all the music I digitize on physical CDs (I also own many new releases on vinyl, but I do not record them). However, to me, even the act of digitizing the album, which I do when it is brand spanking new and then replace the cellophane as well as securely store as a form of protection/longevity, has become more detached from my psyche as well. After I have ripped and stored it, I never really need to get that CD out again to enjoy it, which don't get me wrong, is awesome because of the convenience, but in a way I disconnect from the physical medium, most often not realizing it.

    The cool thing about vinyl in my opinion is that it literally forces the listener to recognize it's own physical presence. It constantly reminds us of itself, as it hisses/cracks/pops, then breaking our mood to tell us that it has once again reached its end or will soon start again. We are forced to take the record out of the sleeve, taking notice of the cover and even the artwork, at least subconsciously, also since it is our only means of reading the band and album name; I would bet that most would immediately recognize particular albums from their past, based upon the artwork alone. This also includes CDs and tapes as well, but it is easier to read their labels on the ends, and at least with CDs many prefer to use a multi-disk player in order to add more convenience.

    In my opinion the thing is that with the sales of newly produced vinyl only going up and up, I believe it shows that people are starting to realize that something in fact is missing from the equation and are looking for other ways to reconnect through the total package of the their favorite piece of musical expression. The material connection in a way has been stripped because of digitization and many now only buy a few tracks off an album, which often leads artists to make incomplete or scattered albums. Then I know some who constantly rely on Pandora to auto-DJ for them, never taking notice of what is actually playing and never purchasing anything (not all, but some).

    I believe vinyl can fill the void that many have by giving us no choice but to experience it, in its entirety and using our own conscious effort in order to do so. Whether this is for better or for worse is individualized and a personal choice in the end; I happen to like the sound of vinyl and do put quite a bit in my regular rotation, but digitized files are still my main source. They're are definitely pros to digitizing/CDs over vinyl, but in the end, if you choose participate with vinyl, even if you try, you can't really ignore the physicality of it because it just simply won't let you. All that you can do though, is just sit back and enjoy the record for what it is, not for what it is not.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2016
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  3. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    Bring a blank HDD; I've got a terrabyte of music you can have...

    I always say No.

    My on-hdd digital collection more or less reflects either my physical collection or things that became favourites as LP or CD in the past, There is a percentage of new stuff, some of which has been acquired because it was easy, or even free of cost,

    There is an archival aspect. There is music that I seldom listen to, but simply would not like to not have available.

    Back in the days when I was buying new music as LPs because that's how music came back then, it is true that it was a different trip. One big difference was that the cost of a full-price LP was really a lot of money on my meagre wage at the time: it did not get bought without quite a lot of thought, and sometimes even saving up.

    Digressing a little, but that was the days of shared houses and flats, and we all listened to each other's records. Taking a new record home was thus not only a personal, but a social experience.

    I remember those days with a big dose of warm, affectionate nostalgia. Yes, no doubt we had a different attitude to music and its physical media. None of that is going to make me go back to vinyl. I think "back to" are important words there: I was born into a house where we only had shellac 78s; I progressed to vinyl LPs, first classical then rock; I used LP covers to roll joints on. It is all (including the joints; although I was still listening to LPs for a long time after that) part of my past and I don't feel the need to re-live it.

    But nor do I feel the need to blindly acquire music by the gigabyte.

    The physical experience of the LP, with its cover and artwork, went so far downhill with CDs, with their horrible "jewel cases" and inferior artwork that I don't rate it any higher than on-hdd music. The economic aspects, though, remained (and remain!) the same as buying LPs.
     
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  4. Koth Ganesh

    Koth Ganesh Friend

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    I keep my digital music equipment in my bedroom and the analog equipment in a different room. Just yesterday, I took delivery of 35 LPs so I went to the analog room and ended spending a couple of hours just listening to the music and once in a while reading the sleeve. As I type this, I have strapped my HD 800 with the Yggdrasil + ZDS. Yet I am not completely focused on the music so I can empathize with the OP.
     
  5. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    There's your problem. Quite often mine too. Did you have a computer with you when you were listening to your LPs? Were you surfing the net? This, which I admit to being an entirely personal problem, and nothing to do with the media or the equipment, is the reason why my music listening is quite often not the completely immersive total experience that it used to be.

    There are huge advantages to playing music on a computer, but then perhaps there are also some very big musical-experience advantages to doing so on a computer that is called a media player and does not have facillities to do everything from today's office homework to browsing then net.

    Mind you... only yesterday I found some stuff on Youtube that totally commanded my attention.
     
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  6. Koth Ganesh

    Koth Ganesh Friend

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    Thad, the issue out of playing music from a laptop/desktop is also a natural invitation to surf the Net, reading and rebutting :))) on SBAF etc. Now I am sure that the more experienced "golden earned" folks here may not face that problem. That is why I PREFER the analog room for listening to the details. I cannot operate the computer simultaneously (although theoretically I could). In addition, the actions of going to the TT, making sure the stylus is sitting properly, and then later turning over the LP for side B, kind of force me to pay attention to the LP when it is playing.

    The larger point to me is that vinyl has a heft and presence that I was missing from time to time with digital music. The Yggdrasil has alleviated that to a large extent I must confess though. Yet, its not the same.
     
  7. Franco72

    Franco72 Rando

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    Good read! A niece of mine recently asked me: "Do CDs sound better than MP3s?" when she was over our place and was looking at our CD collection (which by now is in "CD wallets" with their booklets and inserts). My answer was:

    The difference in quality from a CD and a "good" MP3 is marginal, but take a look at that CD you're looking at. You can pick up the booklet and read things about that particular album; who did what and when. You'll notice a few of them are signed by the artists, that's because I took them to shows and was able to meet the artists afterwards and have them sign it - you can't do that with an MP3; what am I gonna do, take a printout of the folder's location and have them sign it? It probably doesn't mean much to anyone else, but every time I look at those particular things, I remember the times I was there like it was yesterday.

    She laughed and said "this is really cool". I hear she wants something to play records for Xmas.
     
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  8. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I'll never slag on the convenience of digital and its ability to let me hear things I would never be able to hear if I had to track down and purchase a physical copy (long out of print records, unique mono mixes, pre-release promos, etc), but I agree with the general premise that most people listen to digital music while doing other things. Its convenience is also what allows it to be so uninvolving.

    I told my wife a big part of the reason I want to build up my 2-channel setup is so I can take our family to a record store, and everyone can pick something they like, and then we can go home and listen to each person's pick together. It's a tradition I want to pass on to our eventual kids. It doesn't have the same feeling if you just buy the files off of iTunes.
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2016
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  9. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    What... you don't have Family Sunday Afternoons browsing Amazon.com together?

    :D
     
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  10. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I can appreciate the instant gratification of finding an album online that you've been dying to hear, but I think the ritual of going to the store, browsing for records, picking some, cleaning them, and playing them cannot be beat. Not convenient at all, and that's part of what makes it great.
     
  11. mike.s

    mike.s Rando

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    That is a thing of beauty!

    I have a few core problems with going analog:
    1. The cost of adding a setup that comes close to the quality of the digital stream is more then my wife would buy off on
    2. Record stores: just for fun I've taken some time at the local stores that actually have records and few are in my taste and those that are ordered... online! (Doh!)

    I dream of some day going back to a turntable 2 channel setup, but for me, for now, and with two kids to get through school then college, I'm happy with the setup on the digital side ripped from CDs. I scan or photograph the liner, covers, etc. into a PDF and load that up with the album. when I'm in active listening mode I move away from the computer proper and use the Audirvana remote on my older iPad that can do little else. From there I listen and sometimes take a look at the liner notes in PDF form with other content within the remote app, but mostly just listen, sometimes I journal a bit about what I'm hearing with pen and moleskine.

    While my kids are digital natives and have had a Kindle from the time they started reading, yet they still prefer to hold and read a physical book, so I suspect that, if I could squander the amount to put together a turntable 2 channel setup, and find the right record store (there was a time when Libraries rented great albums when I was a kid... that was great fun.. scratches and all!)

    That said, I *adore* the idea of putting together a listening family night! My youngest is digging Ella & Louis album I know she wants to share and my wife always has something interesting.
     
  12. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    That's why I'm trying to get things set up before I have kids. ;)
     
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  13. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    I agree with what you say. Actually, I agree with it for all shopping, not just special things like music and books. I think it is wonderful that I can buy stuff from Amazon that I would find it hard or impossible to buy over local counters, but I still say that the physical journey, browsing, comparison, choosing, etc is much much more fun.
     
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  14. JoshMorr

    JoshMorr Friend

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    While I still find digital most convenient and necessary, I am continuing to find new ways that the vinyl experience is much more rewarding and enjoyable.

    I've mentioned this before but the physical aspects of vinyl are almost as appealing as the sonic abilities. I'm probably a year into owning a record player and have amassed a quality collection on records that I am proud of and enjoy. While it took a bit of time and a couple of shots in the dark, I have found the quality local new and used vinyl shops. One thing that I forgot was the quality of the people that work in record stores. These guys have been holding hope and wish that records would have a resurgence, because they knew it was a format that couldn't die.

    My favorite store is a Enterprise Records, a small independent that mostly sells used records and is very very picky about their rating process. While I've bought lots of different genres, I casually mentioned that I am specifically looking for post bop & fusion jazz records from the 60's and 70's. The next time I walked in, he not only recognized me, but also had some records that just came in and recommendations for artists from the era I was totally unaware of and thoroughly enjoyed. Since, I have learned more about these records (and many others) than I ever could on my own. The little blurb about the band / record or similar artists category for digital retailers doesn't quite know me and my preferences as well as a human being.

    The point is that people are also an important cog in the wheel of music. Yes there are the musicians, but the people that buy/sell/curate/enjoy the music and are willing to share their love and knowledge of music are irreplaceable. This keeps us connected. While the big name record store is dead, I am enjoying the persistence and dedication of the small guy unwilling to close up shop or move the business to ebay / discogs. While great deals can be had and greater selections available, the personal experience is missing. I am glad to have rediscovered this.

    Support local music and support local small businesses. It makes a difference.
     
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  15. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    I'm finished with vinyl. It's doubtful that the turntable will even return from cupboard exile. But I loved your post, and it brought back great memories of those real record shops that we used to spend our saved pennies in.

    One experience contrary to yours was of a second-hand record shop in [UK] London's Soho. On my first couple of visits, looking for specifics, I'd just get a blunt "No." So I learned to look for myself, and often found the very thing I wanted. Later, I used to frequent a shop called Reckless Records in Islington. They had a huge stock. Once, I found a double album that I really wanted, condition "bad" and it looked it too. But vinyl is funny, and you can't always tell by appearance. Yes: far from perfect, but perfectly playable. Steven Stills Manasas: mine for a mere GBP-1!

    The last new-record shop I remember was in Chapel Street Market (Islington, UK). Ordered a few classic albums from them that were hard to find on the shelf. That was before CD players even entered my conciousness.

    Actually, I dislike calling it "vinyl." I always think of my collections as records, LPs, albums (I don't have any singles or EPs). I never saw the need to call them vinyl back then, to differentiate them from shellac, and don't now. Old Fogies Unite!
     
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  16. robot zombie

    robot zombie Almost "Made"

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    Pretty much all of my music is digital. I do own CD's, but I don't really have a good way to listen to them right now, so they mostly sit there. When I listen to the digital copies, I tend to break out the physical copy. There's is something to be said about connecting the music with a physical object. It evokes its own mindset. And with that comes a unique listening experience.

    When I get into the mindset, I will put an album on, turn of the screen, and sit over on the bed with headphones. I have a wireless keyboard with easy hotkeys set for all of the controls. That was a big part of why I got into headphones. I have nearfields, but that's not really adequate for the more personal, intimate experience I was after.

    The problem for me is that I have ADHD... ...like, to a greater degree than most. My mind is always onto the next thing. I can be excited about something one moment and completely disconnected from it the next. That's just how my mind works. All day, every day.

    I think that's why I prefer digital music. Maybe it's just me, but sometimes having minor distractions from the music makes me feel more connected to it than sitting and trying to get swept away by it. Better to let it catch me by surprise. My concentration doesn't work on a dial - it has to come organically. It's almost like I'm subconsciously paying more attention to what's around me than what I'm doing.

    So quite often I'll be doing something and listening to music when a passage just grabs me and sucks me into this blissful euphoria, sorta like "Ohhhh, what's this now?" It's like discovering something new every time, even when the song is familiar. I often catch things I never noticed before jumping out at me. Sometimes I'll listen to something I heard once before and not really dug during a concentrated session and be captivated by it while listening and doing something else.

    I like the freedom of digital music. It suits my flighty, feather-brained way of operating. I'm also a fan of the diversity and availability it offers. I can sit down for a day and pick out 10 or 20 albums that I will later revisit and come to cherish. On any given day, one of those is sure to make my day, week, or month. And then there's still so much more to come. That's awesome to me. I like to be constantly listening to music, so anything that makes doing so more convenient is a plus.

    I understand the argument that this devalues the experience... ...and it's true, I don't see any inherent value in a download, but the sentimentalities do still blossom. Many of the albums that I hold closest to me... ...the ones I will never cast aside, I have never owned physical copies of. And yet, I still feel a deep connection to them. Listening is like extending my consciousness into another realm. It's like my own little secret space that I can decompress and expand into.

    And on the flipside, the rest is easy-come, easy-go. Nothing gained and nothing lost.

    I'd be lying if I didn't long for that vinyl experience, though. I grew up in a home with a wall of records and a turntable.

    I wouldn't say there's better or worse here... ...just different. There's a lot of value to all of it... ...many ways to bring music into your life. All just depends on how you look at it. I think the listening experience of the past is still alive and well. It's just changing form in step with the technology. The end result is the same - you get closer to the music.
     
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  17. pedalhead

    pedalhead Friend

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    God I miss spending time in record stores (sold off my vinyl rig years ago). So much so that, for those few albums I actually buy physical copies of, I've recently taken to heading to a record store to buy the vinyl instead of CD (so long as it comes with a download code). For multiple reasons... I appreciate the intrinsic value of an LP whereas a CD is basically worthless as soon as I leave the shop. I'll also sit and fondle the LP sleeve whilst listening to the digital download.

    I'll probably get a mid-fi vinyl rig for the living room at some point so doesn't hurt to build up a collection in the meantime. I gave up on vinyl as a source for headphones when I had a Rega P3 /HD800 combo. It just couldn't compete with my fairly modest digital setup. In the living room system through a nice old Luxman amp though I'm less nerd-fussy about it.

    I agree on the value-of-music question. Streaming and the picking & choosing of tracks versus respecting the flow of an album in its entirety is part of the problem imho. I was just discussing this with my wife this morning.. or rather, I was bemoaning the way kids pick and choose tracks willy nilly these days and how I fear for the future of the album, whilst she just gave me that "yes dear, whatever" look :)
     
  18. Thad E Ginathom

    Thad E Ginathom Friend

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    Have one from me too! Don't you remember compilation tapes? Cassettes made of willy-nilly tracks. I always preferred the whole-album experience, and I still do.

    There are times, though, when a single track is the thing in our heads. like the play this now variety of earworm. Then we do it. And if we have to play the whole album to do it it's probably because, in our youth we could put the needle on that spot, but now, a decade or four later, it's tough.

    Actually, way-back-then, I did spend a while with one of those lateral-motion decks that claimed to sense the track gaps, and had last and next buttons, but it was a bit irregular in its successs.

    But I love that mental picture of you fondling the album sleeve. Do it! Enjoy the full-size artwork just as god meant it to be!* Fondle on!

    (As long as the wife doesn't get jealous.)



    *It was bad enough when it got reduced to CD-case size: now we have got used to looking at a really small square on phone or monitor.
     
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  19. pedalhead

    pedalhead Friend

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    Haha nothing. Like a good LP sleeve fondle :) Hey I was a mixtape master, nothing but CrO2 blanks for me, mixtapes by genre and time period. I even used to play radio dj and put a commentary before each track on some. I wish I still had some of those tapes, knowing my music tastes in my early teens they'd be a good laugh (ie terrible).

    The difference is I think, when I got an album in the old days I'd play the damn thing over and over until I could recite it all by heart. Even if it had some tracks I didn't like so much. Of course, as you say the gap detection on both turntables and cassette decks was less convenient and reliable than CD, so it was easier just to sit through them all. Meh, anyway, bah humbug... Kids these days don't know they're born etc...
     
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  20. Wilson

    Wilson Socially Anxious Volleyball

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    Thank you @JoshMorr for a wonderful post with terrific and evocative responses - @Merrick, what a wonderful image you create of taking your family to the record store!

    I'm lucky enough to be old enough to have had my formative musical experiences courtesy of vinyl. Being a teenager in love with Pink Floyd... ripping the cellophane off, pulling out those posters and stickers that were included...putting the needle down and hearing the heartbeat that opens Speak To Me. The Dark Side of the Moon!

    Then there was deciding what to buy next, examining the album at the record store...searching for clues. What are my friends' opinions? But chances are they're asking the same questions I am!

    In a way, I blame the Sony Walkman for starting the process of becoming alienated from and not being mindful of listening to music. Perhaps Walkmans allowed us to simultaneously isolate us from the world while multitasking in it... I have to think on this more.

    I wonder how much of my new desire to improve my sound system is tied to chasing and trying to recreate those
    "Wow!" moments I had as a young man and how much of coming to SBAF is reminiscent of heading off to the record store to discover new music and see familiar faces. But I think too much...
     

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